Members call for Labour NEC to back ‘simple but vital move’ for party democracy

Posted on the 18th May 2020

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, 18th May 2020

Labour MPs, activists and democracy campaigners are uniting behind proposals to elect Labour’s constituency NEC seats using a ‘fairer, less divisive’ system ahead of the National Executive meeting on Tuesday.

The seats are currently elected using ‘one-slate-takes-all’ block voting – mirroring Westminster’s First Past the Post elections.

However, the NEC is set to discuss changing guidance so that the elections use the proportional, ranked-choice method of the Single Transferable Vote instead. It is seen as the ‘democratic gold standard’ and has widespread support across the party. Preferential voting is already used to select Labour candidates and to elect the party’s leader.

The campaign for change is spearheaded by Fair Internal Elections Labour, backed by Open Labour, the Electoral Reform Society, trade union campaign Politics for the Many and more.

More than 500 members have signed an open letter supporting the move to STV (see here), ahead of the NEC discussion on Tuesday.

In the recent NEC by-elections, over 45% of members voted for candidates from the various Labour left slates but, due to ‘vote splitting’ under the block voting system, the left won zero seats.

Labour’s NEC has often gone from near-100% domination by one faction to another, further dividing the party and disenfranchising members, MPs and campaigners say.

Polling has shown that an overwhelming majority of members back the principle of proportional representation for General Elections.

All deputy leadership candidates – including Angela Rayner and Dawn Butler – backed STV for the NEC during the leadership election, at an ERS/Open Labour hustings. Keir Starmer also called for electoral reform to be addressed ‘at every level’ during the leadership race.

The ERS have set out seven reasons why a shift to STV would be welcome.

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society:

“It’s great to see this consensus for fair representation moving forward. Labour already uses preferential voting for its leadership elections, so bringing the NEC into harmony with this would give members confidence their vote will always count. This is a welcome boost for party democracy.

“From Scottish local elections, to all Ireland’s elections, to the executives of unions like the NEU, UCU and NUJ – STV is a tried-and-tested system that gives voters a strong voice and real choice. This small but important step would be boost Labour’s authority on issues of democracy, and bring it closer to the ‘gold standard’ for accountability.”

Clive Lewis MP said:

“A small shift of balance on the see-saw [under the current system] means it crashes down one side, then the other. Winner takes all. Loser gets nothing. ‘Unity’ declared with a boot on the throat of factional opponents. This is an almost perfect recipe for division and in-fighting, where potentially 70% of voting members see no representation at all…

“STV would give greater power and influence to members whose votes would otherwise be ‘wasted’, and allows those elected to be accountable to a wider proportion of the voting membership. The need for a united and modern, democratic socialist party – one grounded in tolerance and solidarity that can embrace bold ideas with confidence – is long overdue. So, let’s use STV to elect our NEC.”

Tom Laing, founder of Fair Internal Labour Elections, said:

“STV is an important process in democratising our party, it will ensure members have greater say over who represents them on the NEC.

“The winner takes all nature of the NEC at the moment promotes hyper factionalism. But with STV we can ensure a pluralistic Labour Party, where the proud traditions of our movement can always be heard.”

Sam Tarry MP said:

“This simple change – letting members rank NEC candidates by preference – would put our party’s values of political equality into practice. Under one-bloc-takes-all results, thousands of votes go to waste.

“All members deserve an equal voice. By backing STV, we can end the need for tactical voting, and stop the damaging, see-saw in representation each NEC election. It’s time to move beyond block voting, and back fair representation.

“Labour shouldn’t model its elections on Westminster’s broken system, but on the progressive values we want to see enacted. We can move forward united, with more democracy, and less division, by bringing NEC elections into line with our other internal elections.”

Lynn Henderson, chair of the trade-union led Politics for the Many campaign, and former STUC president:

“As Keir rightly said during the leadership election, we will never get full participation in our electoral system until people feel heard ‘at every level’.

“This would be a crucial step forward for ensuring that, and for building party unity. Proportional representation can build a more cooperative politics in the party – so they can focus on the real issues rather than factional fighting.

“‘Winner-takes-all’ voting is becoming the rarity in politics. Labour ensured the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments, London Assembly, mayoral votes, local elections in Scotland and much more use proportional or preferential voting. In the 21st century, voters and members rightly want real choice and a clear voice. It’s great to see Labour potentially putting its support for political equality into practice.”

Alex Sobel MP said:

“STV will give legitimacy to NEC members as under FPTP you can be elected on a low percentage. It also creates a more open culture because you need to appeal broadly to attract transfers.”

Neal Lawson, Chair of the progressive think tank Compass, said:

“This move would put Labour’s values of political equality into practice. Labour should let everyone’s vote count. Under winner-takes-all voting, some votes count much more than others – those which are ‘just enough’ to get someone over the line. All the rest go to waste. With this change, we can secure fair representation for all members, rather than locking out huge swathes of our party as happens now.

“Let’s build a more inclusive culture by backing this simple but powerful change to empower members and turbo-charge our internal democracy.”

Joe Sousek, co-Chief Executive of Make Votes Matter, said:

“Labour has an opportunity to lead the UK towards a new democracy fit for the 21st century – and adopting a fair system for its own elections would be a hugely symbolic first step on this journey.

“Whether we’re talking about elections to the Labour NEC or the House of Commons, results need to reflect how people voted.”

Mary Southcott of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform said: 

“Labour is at a tipping point when it will see the advantage of diversity and inclusion in decision-making.”


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